The role of the Japanese woman in modern society still retains many of the characteristics that it had in the late eighteenth century, when this novel takes place. In those days, the life of a woman, whether married or single, was one of unending drudgery and toil. Reward or recognition came only indirectly, through the success of the male members of the family.
Thus, this novel is really two stories: on the one hand, the successful medical career of Hanaoka Seishu, the first doctor in the world to perform surgery for breast cancer under a general anesthetic; on the other hand, the lives of his wife and his mother, who supported him with stoic resignation, even to the extent of finally volunteering to be used as guinea pigs in his experiments.
Kae, the wife, joins the household of the local doctor as the bride of his son, Hanaoka Seishu, who is still away pursuing his medical studies in Kyoto. Her mother-in-law, Otsugi, is both beautiful and extremely proud of the tradition of the doctor's family. Though their relationship is one of affection at first, it declines into tension and eventually into bitter competitiveness and hatred, fostered by the claustrophobic social customs of the time. The two women-the wife who struggles to adapt to a new household and gain the affection of her unfamiliar husband, and the over possessive mother-in-law dedicated to the fulfillment of her son's ambitions-vie with one another to serve one man. Kae suffers the most, for the new anesthetic that the doctor tries on her has devastating results.
Readers of The Doctor's Wife will find a tender and compassionate tale about a woman of great strength and courage, as well as an impelling account of Japanese society and the role of women in it.
"Each Fought to Protect the Other, Avowing Willingly to Sacrifice Her Own Life and Concealing Daggers in Her Words"
By Reader in Tokyo - May 24, 2008
This book was published in Japanese in 1966 and in English in 1978. It's one of the best-known novels by Sawako Ariyoshi (1931-84), one of Japan's more prominent postwar female writers.
The book covered 70 years in 15 short chapters. It began in the Tokugawa Period, in the second half of the 18th century, and centered on the lives of the mother and wife of a doctor living in western Japan. Avoiding direct confrontation, they engaged in a decades-long, sacrificial struggle for the doctor's deepest affection. The character of the doctor was based on the life of a real person, from the same region as the author, who'd pioneered the use of a general anesthetic for surgery around 1800, some four decades before general anesthetics were used in the West.
The story was told in the third person. In it, the women couldn't see beyond the social roles pre-ordained for them by their relation to the doctor, which called for supporting his work and continuing the family line... read more
A Welcome Read
By Anonymous - February 15, 2006
The book is set during the Tokugawa period of Japan and depicts the struggles in life of a woman named Kae. It may be thought that this book lacks a dynamic story, the idea is not because of some flaw in the author, but the fact that it is a historical fiction piece which tells of the first recorded medical operation of breast cancer under a general anesthetic. The author does a very good job at keeping up with the known facts which to some unenlightened peoples may seem as unattractive.
Aside from this notion, the book is by no means dull. It contains the tragic vie for attention between mother and daugter-in-law while touching on the issue of sexual prejudice that is still present in today's society. All this while at the same time shaping the tale of a Doctor's goal to set a medical landmark.
A very good book to learn some history while being inthralled with the story.
Wonderful Story, Insightful
By Providencia Hernandez "Provi" - February 19, 2010
Not only was this novel translated naturally, and skillfully, the story itsself is educational sociologically, and historically. You can cleary see and understand the stories from both sides of the characters. You will also learn about a possibly little known historial fact about Japan contributing to the invention of anethesia. The story allows the reader to have good insight into each characters view, feelings, strengths and faults, and yet allows the reader to make his or her own decisions regarding the conclusion of the story. The story itsself focus much on the two women involved, and less on the man they are both related to.
I enjoyed this story very much. I recommend it to anyone interested in Japan.
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